“Explore all angles,” priests, Arakan mayor urge authorities

ARAKAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/20 October) – Fellow Italian priests and the town mayor here want authorities to “explore all angles” to determine who is or are behind the October 17 murder of Fr. Fausto Tentorio.

Italian missionaries Giovanni Vettorello, assistant parish priest of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help parish here and Peter Geremia, parish priest of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat province, said that while Tentorio’s anti-mining stance may not be ruled out as possible cause, this cannot be the immediate cause for his murder.

Both priests belong to the same congregation as Tentorio’s: the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).

Mayor Geraldo Tuble echoed the priests’ sentiment, adding that Tentorio is not the only one opposed to mining here. He said mining firms can never enter Arakan because the people are against it and the local legislature had even passed an ordinance opposing the entry of mining firms here. He also said they also passed an ordinance banning expansion of plantations except in two barangays – Dalag and Miocan.

Arakan has a population of 40,000 spread across 28 barangays.

Councilors Richard Gayatin and Leonardo Reovoca, former church workers, said there were resolutions by the local legislature opposing mining when some mining firms filed exploration applications but eventually an ordinance was passed opposing mining here last year.

Gayatin cited Kumakata Mining Company’s plan to conduct exploration activities on a 16,180-hectare area on Mt. Sinaka but residents opposed this around 2005. Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau records showed two applications for exploration in neighboring Antipas town but local officials allege it encroaches on portions of Arakan:  Visayas Ore Philippines, Inc, a subsidiary of Nihao Mineral Resources, over 11,951 hectares for chromite, cobalt, nickel, in October 2007 and Altop Mining Mati Resources Corp. over 7,716 hectares for nickel, cobalt, iron and other associated minerals, in September 2008.

Constancio Paye, MGB regional director, told MindaNews Visayas Ore’s application was issued an “order of denial” by his office on June 1 this year while Altop’s “order of denial” was issued on June 28 this year.

Focus on other aspects

Vettorello noted that the mining issue is more felt in other areas outside Arakan But Vettorello told MindaNews he will not exclude Tentorio’s anti-mining stance as among the possible reasons behind his killing but focusing on this issue alone could mislead investigators to the exclusion of other possible motives.

He said investigators should not focus only on this aspect, even as he acknowledged that the investigation “will not be so easy.”

He said he hopes local and national authorities “can unite efforts to do something and bring out the truth.”

Vettorello added that unpunished killings embolden killers. “Impunity is a big issue,” he said.

The gunman fired his 9mm gun at least twice, piercing through the glass window of the already opened driver’s side of Tentorio’s Suzuki Jimny, just as he was about to drive the 52-kilometer trip to Kidapawan City for the monthly Presbyterium of the Diocese of Kidapawan, before 8 a.m. on Monday.

Police investigators Zalawi Shariff Moreno and Jay Canto told MindaNews Monday afternoon that the gunman apparently moved closer after the initial shots, to pump more bullets on the fallen priest, then ran towards the road some 50 meters away, where an accomplice was waiting on board a motorcycle. Other reports said the gunman “walked casually” to the road.

Geremia said that while there may be no mining in Arakan now, Tentorio’s role as director of the Diocese’s Indigenous Peoples Program (formerly Tribal Filipinos Apostolate), requires him to visit other areas in the Diocese where mining is a major issue.

Professional killer

But Geremia acknowledged he does “not think mining is the immediate or main cause.” He said this should be taken “together will all the other concerns – plantations affecting people here, the human rights violations, military presence.”

Geremia said that based on the explanation of  the medico-legal, Chief Inspector Raymond Cabling, two types of bullets were used on Tentorio, and the gunman was “very sophisticated, very well trained, a professional with the best equipment and the rarest bullets.”

He said Cabling told them that of 1,800 autopsies he had performed, Tentorio’s case is only the second in terms of using two bullets for one gun.

Geremia also said that based on the medico-legal findings, the gunman appeared so self-assured. “He was not afraid of being stopped by anyone.”

The gunman was also found to have “planned ahead of time.”

“What’s the immediate incident that could have triggered the killing of Fausto?” Geremia asked.

Answering his own question, he said: “We’re still trying to find out,” adding efforts should be undertaken to find out “who, where is the source of the bullets. Who are the backers?”

He said the medico-legal officer told them the gunman “knew his gun, knew his target and knew how to eliminate the target.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)